seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Irish Artist Sarah Henrietta Purser

sarah-purser-by-john-butler-yeatsSarah Henrietta Purser, Irish artist mainly noted for her work with stained glass, dies in Dublin on August 7, 1943.

The Purser family had come to Ireland from Gloucestershire in the eighteenth century. Purser is born in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) in County Dublin on March 22, 1848. She is raised in Dungarvan, County Waterford, one of the numerous children of Benjamin Purser, a prosperous flour miller and brewer, and his wife Anne Mallet. She is related to Sir Frederic William Burton, RHA (1816-1900), who is a son of Hannah Mallet. Two of her brothers, John and Louis, become professors at Trinity College Dublin. Her niece Olive Purser, daughter of her brother Alfred, is the first woman scholar at Trinity.

At thirteen Purser attends the Moravian school, Institution Evangélique de Montmirail, Switzerland where she learns to speak fluent French and begins painting. In 1873 her father’s business fails and she decides to become a full-time painter. She attends classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and joins the Dublin Sketching Club, where she is later appointed an honorary member. In 1874 she distinguishes herself in the National Competition. In 1878 she again contributes to the Royal Hibernian Academy, and for the next fifty years becomes a regular exhibitor, mainly portraits, and shows an average of three works per show.

In 1878-1879, Purser studies at the Académie Julian in Paris where she meets the German painter Louise Catherine Breslau, with whom she becomes a lifelong friend.

Purser becomes wealthy through astute investments, particularly in Guinness, for which several of her male relatives have worked over the years. She is very active in the art world in Dublin and is involved in the setting up of the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, persuading the Irish government to provide Charlemont House in Parnell Square to house the gallery.

Purser works mostly as a portraitist. Through her talent and energy, and owing to her friendship with the Gore-Booths, she is very successful in obtaining commissions. When the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland commissions her to portray his children in 1888, his choice reflects her position as the country’s foremost portraitist. Various portraits painted by Purser are held in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Purser finances An Túr Gloine (The Tower of Glass), a stained glass cooperative, at 24 Upper Pembroke and runs it from its inauguration in 1903 until her retirement in 1940. Michael Healy is the first of a number of distinguished recruit, such as Catherine O’Brien, Evie Hone, Wilhelmina Geddes, Beatrice Elvery and Ethel Rhind. She is determined the stained glass workshop should adhere to true Arts and Crafts philosophy. An Túr Gloine archive is held in the Centre for the Study of Irish Art, National Gallery of Ireland.

Purser does not produce many items of stained glass herself. Most of the stained glass works are painted by other members of the co-operative, presumably under her direction. Two early works are St. Ita (1904) for St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea and The Good Shepard (1904) for St. Columba’s College, Dublin. Her last stained glass work is believed to be The Good Shepard and the Good Samaritan (1926) for the Church of Ireland at Killucan, County Westmeath.

Until her death Purser lives for many years in Mespil House, a Georgian mansion with beautiful plaster ceilings on Mespil Road, on the banks of the Grand Canal. Here she is “at home” every Tuesday afternoon to Dublin’s writers and artists. Her afternoon parties are a fixture of Dublin literary life.

Purser dies in Dublin on August 7, 1943 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery beside her brothers John and Louis. Mespil House is demolished after her death and developed into apartments.

Purser is the second woman to sit on the Board of Governors and Guardians, National Gallery of Ireland, 1914-1943. She is made an Honorary Member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1890, becoming the first female Associate Member in 1923 and the first female Member in 1924. Also in 1924 she initiates the movement for the launching of the Friends of the National Collection of Ireland. Archives relating to Sarah Purser are housed in the Centre for the Study of Irish Art, National Gallery of Ireland.

(Pictured: Portrait of Sarah Purser by John Butler Yeats, c. 1880–1885)


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Birth of Artist & Illustrator Harry Clarke

harry-clarkeHenry Patrick (Harry) Clarke, Irish stained-glass artist and book illustrator, is born in Dublin on March 17, 1889. He is a leading figure in the Irish Arts and Crafts movement.

Clarke is the younger son and third child of Joshua Clarke and Brigid Clarke (née MacGonigal). Church decorator Joshua Clarke moves to Dublin from Leeds in 1877 and starts a decorating business, Joshua Clarke & Sons, which later incorporates a stained glass division. Through his work with his father, Clarke is exposed to many schools of art but Art Nouveau in particular.

Clarke is educated at the Model School in Marlborough Street, Dublin and Belvedere College, which he leaves in 1905. After his mother’s death in 1903, he is apprenticed into his father’s studio and attends evening classes in the Metropolitan College of Art and Design. His The Consecration of St. Mel, Bishop of Longford, by St. Patrick wins the gold medal for stained glass work in the 1910 Board of Education National Competition. At the art school in Dublin, he meets fellow artist and teacher Margaret Crilley. They marry on October 31, 1914.

Clarke moves to London to seek work as a book illustrator. Picked up by London publisher George G. Harrap and Co., he starts with two commissions which are never completed. Difficulties with these projects makes Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen his first printed work, in 1916. It includes 16 colour plates and more than 24 halftone illustrations. This is followed by an illustrations for an edition of Edgar Allan Poe‘s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, the second version of which, published in 1923, makes his reputation as a book illustrator. His work can be compared to that of Aubrey Beardsley, Kay Nielsen, and Edmund Dulac. His final book, Selected Poems of Algernon Charles Swinburne, is published in 1928.

Clarke also continues to work in stained glass, producing more than 130 windows. His glass is distinguished by the finesse of its drawing and his use of rich colours. He is especially fond of deep blues. His use of heavy lines in his black-and-white book illustrations echoes his glass techniques.

Clarke’s stained glass work includes many religious windows, including the windows of the Honan Chapel in University College Cork. He also produces much secular stained glass such as a window illustrating John KeatsThe Eve of St. Agnes (now in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin) and the Geneva Window, (now in the Wolfsonian Museum, Miami Beach, Florida). Perhaps his most seen works are the windows he creates for Bewley’s on Dublin’s Grafton Street.

Clarke is plagued with ill health, in particular respiratory problems. He is diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1929 and goes to a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland. Fearing that he will die abroad, he begins his journey back to Dublin in 1931, but dies on this journey on January 6, 1931 in Chur where he is buried. A headstone is erected but local law requires that the family pledge to maintain the grave 15 years after the death. This is not explained to the Clarke family and Harry Clarke’s remains are disinterred in 1946 and reburied in a communal grave.


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Birth of Artist Sarah Henrietta Purser

Sarah Henrietta Purser, Irish artist mainly noted for her work with stained glass, is born on March 22, 1848, in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) in County Dublin, and raised in Dungarvan, County Waterford. She is educated in Switzerland and afterwards studies at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin and in Paris at the Académie Julian.

Purser works mostly as a portraitist. She is also associated with the stained glass movement, founding a stained glass workshop, An Túr Gloine, in 1903. Some of her stained glass work is commissioned from as far as New York City, including a window at Christ Church, Pelham dedicated to the memory of Katharine Temple Emmet and Richard Stockton Emmet, grandson of the Irish patriot, Thomas Addis Emmet. Through her talent and energy, and owing to her friendship with the Gore-Booths, she is very successful in obtaining commissions, famously commenting, “I went through the British aristocracy like the measles.”

In 1977 Bruce Arnold noted, “some of her finest and most sensitive work was not strictly portraiture, for example, An Irish Idyll in the Ulster Museum, and Le Petit Déjeuner (in the National Gallery of Ireland).”

Sarah Purser becomes wealthy through astute investments, particularly in Guinness. She is very active in the art world in Dublin and is involved in the setting up of the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, persuading the Irish government to provide Charlemont House to house the gallery. In 1923 she becomes the first female member of the Royal Hibernian Academy.

Until her death she lives for years in Mespil House, a Georgian mansion with beautiful plaster ceilings on Mespil Road, on the banks of the Grand Canal. After her death in Dublin on August 7, 1943, it is demolished and is developed into apartments. She is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.

(Pictured: Stained glass window in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, by Sarah Purser made in 1906: a depiction of King Cormac of Cashel)